In 1993, Dennis the Menace was made into a live-action film written and co-produced by John Hughes, directed by Nick Castle, and released by Warner Bros.. The cast includes Walter Matthau, Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, and Joan Plowright.
It was so successful, it spawned two Direct-to-Video sequels, Dennis the Menace Strikes Again! (1998) and A Dennis the Menace Christmas (2007), both with different casts.
The movie provides examples of:
- Adult Fear: When Dennis runs away after Mr. Wilson tells him off. The severity of a five-year-old boy running off in the middle of the night is handled rather realistically as the whole neighborhood spends the night frantically looking for him. Even Mr. Wilson is left haunted by the things he said to Dennis.
- All There in the Script: Switchblade Sam is only named in the credits.
- Amusing Injuries: Much of what Dennis (inadvertently) puts Mr. Wilson through and later Switchblade Sam when the latter abducts Dennis near the end.
- The Artifact: After it's been stolen, Margaret inexplicably has her doll back when the neighborhood kids are out looking for Dennis. This is due to a deleted scene (retained in the tie-in movie storybook) where Switchblade Sam visits her, Dennis, and Joey at the redecorated treehouse, giving them candy (and her doll back) in exchange for information about their houses' valuables. Dennis also lets slip about Mr. Wilson's gold coins and his bookshelf safe, hence Sam knowing to look there in the final cut.
- Aside Glance: It looks like Dennis is staring at us while playing dead so he won't be in Margaret's house.
- Ask a Stupid Question...George: I think the little rat put mouthwash in my nasal spray and toilet cleanser in my mouthwash.Martha: Oh, why would he do something like that?George: [gives her a sarcastic smirk] Must you ask?
- Artistic License Biology: In reality, no flower would evolve a trait that caused it to take forty years to bloom and then die immediately afterwards, as such a trait would provide absolutely no benefits towards survival. A plant's flowers are, essentially, its sex organs. Flowers form into fruit, which in turn drop seeds. A plant that only drops seeds after four decades of growth would be unlikely to survive that length of time often enough to propagate itself. Such a plant could not feasibly be selectively bred either. Furthermore, biology is variable enough that even if such a plant existed, there's no way one could time the blooming down to the exact hour across a span of forty years.
- Asshole Victim: Although not fatally, Switchblade Sam and Alice's coworker in the post-credit scene.
- Balloon Belly: Happens to Switchblade Sam after Dennis forces him to eat an entire pot of baked beans.
- Big "SHUT UP!": Switchblade Sam yells this to Dennis in an attempt to silence his incessant pestering. It doesn't work.
- Brutally Honest: Mr. Wilson.
- "I'm not gonna mince words, Mitchell. Your kid is driving me nuts."
- "[Gunther] better get used to it. Disappointment is gonna be a big part of his life. He's a foot short for his age and he's cross-eyed."
- Butt-Monkey: Mr. Wilson. Also, Switchblade Sam once he meets Dennis. The same with Alice's coworker when she does in the end.
- Canon Foreigner: Gunther.
- Character Title
- Deadpan Snarker: Mr. Wilson often cracks some sarcastic quotes when he's not a Grumpy Old Man.
- Death Glare:
George: Don't embarrass me.
- Mr. Wilson gives a couple to Dennis during the party.
- Martha Wilson gave one to George for explaining his reason for lying to Gunther (see Brutally Honest).
- Margaret gives one to Joey when he was laughing at her for wanting to know how babies are made, which makes him stop laughing.
- Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Switchblade Sam's stealing of Margaret's doll. Afterward, Margaret claims the doll was a priceless antique, but 1) Sam didn't know it at the time, and 2) Margaret's claim isn't credible, as no one would give a five-year-old a priceless antique as a toy (unless she specifically asked for it, which is also likely).
- Dramatic Thunder: This happens twice.
Dennis: I bet I know what [the combination to Mr. Wilson's safe] is.George: I doubt that.Dennis: I bet it's your address.*Booom* (George freezes in shock)
- The first time is when Dennis and Mr. Wilson are discussing the latters safe.
Alice: I know your garden party's tonight. I feel terrible. I don't know what to do!Martha: Dont worry about it. You get home when you can. Well be just fine here!Alice: Whats George gonna say?*BOOM*
- Then later when Denniss Mom calls Mrs. Wilson to let her know that her flight back home from her business trip has been delayed, so Dennis has to stay at the Wilsons house a little longer than originally planned.
- Fantastic Slur: Dennis calls old people "cheek-pinchers".
- Gass Hole: Switchblade Sam, after eating an entire pot of beans.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Dennis talked to Mrs. Wilson about the time his parents "wrestled".
- While Dennis and Margaret are arguing over the merits of men over women and vice-versa, they start to debate on how babies are made. This ends when Joey starts laughing evilly, saying: "You want to know how?"
- Mr. Wilson's utterances of "G.D. wading pool" and "G.D. garden lanterns".
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: George says "G.D." a lot.
- Groin Attack: Averted, as a canoe fell from the ceiling of Mr. Wilson's attic, barely missed his groin.
- Heel Realization: Mr. Wilson regrets his "Reason You Suck" Speech to Dennis when he goes missing, and tries to help search for him.
- Human Shield: The stated reason behind Switchblade Sam's kidnapping of Dennis.Dennis: What does a hostage have to do?Switchblade Sam: Nothing.Dennis: Then how come you need one?Switchblade Sam: In case the cops show up!Dennis: Do I get to use a gun?Switchblade Sam: No, you get to stand in front of me in case the cops use a gun.
- I Am Big Boned:Martha: Weren't you a fat boy?George: I was husky.
- It Tastes Like Feet: After vacuuming paint and sawchips from his garage floor, Dennis reverses the fan and blows the contents into Mr. Wilson's barbecue. Later, when eating his steak, Wilson says "it tastes like paint... and wood".
- George Wilson, for the most part. But mostly because he is just a cynical old man, even partly because he is the one constantly taking the blows and being the butt of Dennis' blunders, and he has an obsession with a reward involving his garden, which hijacks some of his concerns for others.
- A woman employee at Alice Mitchell's work who has several cameos because of how conceited she is. She finally gets what she deserves at the end.
- Then there is Switchblade Sam, not only because he is the cat burglar, but because he has the heart to go around trampling on flowers that are in his path and swiping fruit out of the hand of a kid.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Towards a bitchy coworker of Alice Mitchell. She forces the latter into going on a business trip in her stead, despite the fact that Alice has a kid to watch over, on the basis that she "[has] a life." The movie ends with said kid, Dennis, getting her stuck in a copier machine.
- Leitmotif: Whenever you start to hear an electric guitar lick, know that Switchblade Sam is about to turn that corner the camera is slowly tightening on.
- Life's Work Ruined: The flower that took 40 years to grow and flowers for a few seconds... and no one sees the whole process because of Dennis yelling at just the right moment.George: Forty years down the drain!
- Montage: "Don't Hang Up"
- My God, What Have I Done?: Mr. Wilson is guilt-stricken when he learns that Dennis ran away because of his tirade, and that he was indeed trying to warn him of a burglary (that happened to take place at the same time as the long-awaited flower bloom) and his safety might be in danger because Switchblade Sam — a man with a lengthy criminal history — is at large.
- Not-So-Innocent Whistle: Dennis when he accidentally spilled some mothballs, on which George accidentally slipped.
- Oh, Crap!: At least three times, from Dennis.
- When the large blob of paint is about to fall on Mr. Wilson.
Dennis: This is Mr. Wilson's gold. How come you got it?
- When he broke Mr. Wilson's dentures.
- And when he learns Sam is a thief and that he was the one who robbed Mr. Wilson.
Sam: I stole it!
Dennis: You're a robber!?
Sam: I'm a thief!
- The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Switchblade Sam apparently figured out George's combination is his address.
- Pity the Kidnapper: Switchblade Sam initially seems ok with the idea of taking Dennis along as a hostage, but being Dennis, he doesn't make things easy for him.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Following the Summer Floraganza event at Mr. Wilson's house, Wilson gives an unbelievably cruel and horrifyingly vicious one (one might argue bordering on sadism) after Dennis tries (unsuccessfully) to warn Wilson that his home was being burglarized ... causing Wilson to miss the entire life cycle — its bloom and death last less than 15 seconds — of a rare species of flower that he had nurtured for 40 years. Wilson, thinking Dennis is trying to pester him about nothing in particular, delivers the tirade, seen under Tranquil Fury.George: You're a pest. A menace. A selfish, spoiled little boy and I've no use for you. You took something from me that I can never get back, something that means more to me than you ever will. You understand? I don't want to see you, I don't want to know you. Get out of my way.[walks away]Dennis: [in tears] I'm sorry, Mr. Wilson.
- Sarcasm Mode:Dennis: You know, Mr. Wilson, you wonder why I'm not crying? If I'm not gonna be around my mom and dad, the only other person I wanna be around is you.George: I can't tell you how deeply moved I am.
Martha: [just before getting into bed] George, are you sleeping?George: I was until you started yacking.Martha: I would have been a good mother.George: And I would have made a swell fireman. [turns to his side]
- [a couple of quotes when Martha and George get in bed one night and engage in a personal discussion]
- Screams Like a Little Girl: Dennis, when his hair is sucked into the leaf blower.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: At the end of the credits scene, when Dennis pressed the Print button on the copying machine, resulting in the lady co-worker (from earlier) getting stuck in the copier machine.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: Both Mr. Wilson and one of Dennis' friends use their address as their combination for their safe and bike, respectively. Even Switchblade Sam figured it out.
- Title Drop:
George: I can't stand that kid! He's a menace!
- Sort of.
- Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: Switchblade Sam's attempt to take Dennis as a hostage end up with him being incapacitated by being stuffed full of an entire pot of beans and tied down when Dennis practiced tying knots on him.
- Tranquil Fury: Mr. Wilson brings the white-hot rage in the film's climax. Also doubles as a Title Drop.Mr. Wilson: "You're a pest. A menace. A selfish, spoiled little boy and I've no use for you. You took something from me that I can never get back, something that means more to me than you ever will. You understand?" (Dennis, trying to comprehend what he was told, nods.) "I don't want to see you, I don't want to know you. Get out of my way." (Dennis begs for forgiveness and begins to cry, but Wilson ignores him as he yells at his guests to go home.)
- Unperson: What Mr. Wilson regards Dennis as he makes his cruel, scathing remarks following the flower bloom scene.
- Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: The rough, grimy Switchblade Sam contrasts the otherwise cheerful, suburban setting and characters. And by the end of the movie, he's ready to pull a knife on a five-ear-old kid.
- Vitriolic Best Buds:
- Dennis and Margaret. Despite Dennis (and Joey's) dislike towards her (and vice versa), they willingly work together to build a treehouse in the woods. And Margaret cries when Dennis has disappeared.
- Dennis and Mr. Wilson to some extent as well. Despite Dennis being the bane of Mr. Wilson's existence, Mr. Wilson is legitimately concerned when Dennis is missing, and is overjoyed to see him return safe and sound. Also, at some point in time, Mr. Wilson apparently liked Dennis enough to teach him a few skills, like how to tie knots.
- Would Hurt a Child:
- Switchblade Sam: What a guilt-wrought Mr. Wilson fears will happen once he realizes Dennis is missing and that Switchblade Sam — a suspect in a string of burglaries — is at large. Not to mention Sam's initial plan to use Dennis as a Human Shield and then when he get fed up with him, tries to kill him with his knife.
- Mr. Wilson himself, but these are through his words. While it is true that Dennis had caused his fair share of troubles and deserved, eventually, at least a stern talk to, at the time of his cruel tirade, he doesn't care that Dennis is just 5 years old or what long-term psychological effects said speech will have... he blames him solely for missing the bloom of a rare flower that was his life's work. In fairness, unlike Switchblade Sam, Mr. Wilson exhibits remorse for what he said and did.